ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Big Brother is Watching

What was suspected for long stands confi rmed; states are monitoring their citizens' conversations.

The suspicion among internet democracy and civil liberty activists that the behemoth databases and servers of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Skype have for long been used by intelligence agencies in the United States (US) now stands confirmed. Edward Snowden, a contractor for the secretive US National Security Agency (NSA), bravely leaked confidential and classified documents to The Guardian in early June which confirmed the existence of an electronic surveillance programme code-named PRISM. Launched in 2007, PRISM enabled the NSA to perform in-depth surveillance on electronic communications and data by accessing servers of several “participating technology companies”.

Since the revelations the companies have denied active participation beyond what is legally permissible under US law – specifically the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 Amendments Act of 2008 (FISA) – but the leaked documents suggest that they have gone out of their way to enable the NSA to collect data. The documents point out that the NSA is collecting 200 billion pieces of intelligence every month. The leaks also pointed to other related data mining programmes such as “Boundless Informant” that analysed metadata information captured by PRISM, colour coding data retrieved from around the world based on intensity of surveillance – Iran was where the highest amount of data was gathered and India was fifth in the leaked list. Such metadata are enough to construct behavioural and interest patterns among internet users, so claims that the metadata does not carry much informational value unless it pertained to specific suspects are spurious.

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